Republicans In Hamilton Close Meeting to Public Over Corruption Investigation

Last evening the all-Republican Hamilton Council took their meeting into closed session to avoid a public discussion of a reported corruption investigation into the activities of the Town’s Mayor, John Bencivengo.

Over the formal protests of non-political and democratic attenddes, the five Republicans  went intio closed session to discuss among themselves the rules of succession if the Mayor Bencivengo resigns (Or at least that’s what they SAID they were discussing.  Who really knows?)

The Council’s reticence to discuss the issue only adds to the failure of the mayor to comment on the investigation in any meaningful way since last Thursday when the Times reported that an investigation was in the works.

Council members claim to have no knowlege of what’s going on and none of them have simply picked up the phone to ask the mayor directly.  (Or, if they have, the news is very bad)

Comments (4)

  1. Rosi Efthim

    Discussion of the rules of succession would not seem to be a legitimate reason for the body to go behind closed doors. An exception, though, is if they’re getting legal advice (from their municipal attorney) during that session. But that depends on the nature of that legal advice, some of it may qualify for closed session, most of it would not.  

    You should also obtain the minutes of the meeting to have on record what was said immediately before they went into exec session. You say objections were raised from the audience – did the municipal attorney address those concerns?

    If you think they went into closed session improperly you can file a complaint with NJ’s Government Records Council.

    You can also OPRA the minutes of the executive session. They will likely turn you down, but they are required to tell you formally why they went behind closed doors, at which point you’ll have that on record. (After they turn you down, request those minutes monthly because at a point in time when that issue is no longer pertinent enough to be protected from public scrutiny, those records will be released and they have to give them to you).

    Better Sunshine Law advocates than I may have different suggestions. Any takers?  

    Reply
  2. ShoreBlue (Post author)

    Thanks. I’d agree that the discussion of the rules of succession does not seem to be covered by any of the criteria for closed meetings mentioned in the Open Public Meetings Act.

    It was expected that the Council would make this attempt in advance, so some research was done in anticipation.   A local Democrat made a formal statement of protest (according to a prepared format) which was accepted into the record. There was no explanation of the law from the township attorney beyond him saying closure was permissible.

    It’s also my understanding that Council may go into closed discussions with their lawyer, but that is limited only to matters of pending litigation, which is not the case here.

    The minutes of the closed session as well as a number of other documents/tapes were requested under OPRA the next day. It isn’t expected that will yield those documents, but like you, I believe does yield other information.

    As to the complaint, it appears that the act directs complaints either through Superior Court or through the County Prosecutor’s Office.  Toward that end, there is a letter being drafted to the Prosecutor making a complaint, requesting an investigation and asking the prosecutor to take steps to safeguard the records of the meeting.

    I will follow up on your suggestion about the Government Records Council as well.

    It is also my understanding that if the Council goes into a closed session to diiscass a specific individual, they are required to provide hime with the so-called Rive Notice.  While I’m not even sure that discussion of the mayor is a legitimate personnel discussion even if he was Riced, there is no indication that he was.

    Reply
  3. denniscmcgrath

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